May 22, 2012

State agency weighs new turbine regulations

By Sean Teehan | Cape Cod Times | 22 May 2012

State environmental officials may introduce new regulations to avoid placing wind turbines that exceed the state’s acceptable noise threshold near residential neighborhoods.

But ideas for possible new rules are far from concrete and have not yet been fully explored by officials at the Department of Environmental Protection.

“It is under consideration, but there’s been nothing written,” said Ed Coletta, a DEP spokesman. “Everything is still under review.”

DEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell did not have time on Monday to speak with a Times reporter, Coletta said.

DEP officials are exploring rules that would require turbine manufacturers to provide estimates of turbine noise levels and would require towns to consider the topography surrounding them, what kind of weather conditions they would likely face and how far they would be from the nearest homes, Coletta said.

DEP officials have not officially proposed any of these ideas, he said.

Falmouth Selectman Mary Pat Flynn said she had not had any communication with the state about possible new regulations.

The DEP started kicking around ideas to increase vigilance during the planning phase of turbine projects after a state-appointed panel in January found no evidence that noise and shadow flicker from turbines directly affect abutters, Coletta said.

Several residents decried the January report when it came out. But Falmouth residents who oppose wind turbines felt vindicated last week when the DEP announced a separate study of noise created by “Wind 1” – one of Falmouth’s two 1.65-megawatt turbines at the wastewater treatment plant on Blacksmith Shop Road – found it created more sound than allowed under state law.

State law limits turbine noise to 10 decibels above ambient noise in an area. For example, on the study’s first night, ambient noise at 211 Blacksmith Shop Road was measured at 29 decibels. The sound from the turbine reached just under 41 decibels, which meant the sound was about 2 decibels higher than the extra 10 decibels allowed. In light of the study, Falmouth’s selectmen agreed to shut off Wind 1 for 30 days while DEP officials test the turbine’s decibel level during the day.

Malcolm Donald, a turbine abutter and outspoken opponent of the turbines, said state officials and manufacturers should take greater steps to avoid building turbines that disturb neighbors. He said turbines in Fairhaven and Kingston that recently began spinning should also be studied for possible excessive noise.

“The people in Fairhaven are actually closer to their turbines than we are to ours,” Donald said. “How on earth they didn’t think it was going to be a problem over there when it was a problem here is beyond me.”

The state may conduct sound studies at turbines in Fairhaven and Kingston if they receive enough complaints, Coletta said. The DEP received some complaints from turbine neighbors in Kingston but not from Fairhaven residents, Coletta said. However, Coletta said, they have no immediate plans to test decibel levels at either site.

The DEP isn’t the only state agency looking into turbine regulations. Next week, the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives will receive a bill that would direct the DEP to establish statewide turbine siting standards. The standards would not be regulations, but could be used by communities as guidelines for the turbine building process.

The bill marks a stark change from a previous bill being considered by the state Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee that, in addition to creating siting standards, would have also expedited the permitting process for turbines in an effort to encourage more green energy. That bill was killed by the committee in January to allow standards to be set before permits are streamlined, according to committee staffers.

Coletta said the DEP does not currently review turbine projects before they are built unless they are being constructed on landfills or wetlands.

“In those cases we have to review and give them a permit for building on those locations, but that review isn’t concerned with sound,” Coletta said. “We are mainly looking at if the landfill can support the weight of the turbine or if the wetland will be damaged in the construction process.”

“There is nothing on the books that says we have to review turbines for sound or infrasound or flicker,” he added. “A bill from the state Legislature would give us more rights to do that.”

[rest of article available at source]

Ariel Wittenberg from The Standard-Times contributed to this report.

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